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Friday, April 8, 2011

The creator of "Simon's Cat"

Simon Tofield, enigmatic cartoonist.

Four months ago, I posted a short piece on the upcoming "Simon's Cat" book two, Simon's Cat: Beyond the Fence, which since then has had hundreds and hundreds of hits -- getting up to 2,000, at the latest counting. 

Naturally, I wondered why that post has been so popular.  Are US readers increasingly on tenterhooks because the book hasn't been released in their country yet, and are checking the blog for updates on the launch?  Or was it because of stray google searches on "Simon's Cat" and the name of the cartoon cat's creator, Simon Tofield?

Deciding it was the latter, I began my own search into the identity of Simon Tofield.  Who is this hero of cyberspace, the man who has created the ultimate internet pet?  Information is surprisingly scarce on the ground.

This is mainly, I suspect, because Simon Tofield is such a nice, modest man, touchingly amazed at his WWW success.  Instead of talking about himself in a filmed interview, for instance, he shares his expertise. 

The interview, of course, is on YouTube.

Facts and figures are readily available: That my favorite of the short cartoons, "Let me in," racked up 100,000+ YouTube views in the first week of screening, for instance, and that the five short films together have scored about 40,000,000 hits. And that the first of the series, "Cat man do," won Best Comedy in the British Animation Awards, 2008.

But what about the man?

Well, he started drawing cartoons at an early age; he studied graphics and animation at De Montfort University, and is an animator and director at Tandem Films, London.  He likes British wildlife, painting, the Great Outdoors, and (surprise, surprise,) cats.  And he lives in Bedfordshire.

Not a man I would recognize, if I was sitting opposite him on a train.

Charles Solomon, in a story in the Los Angeles Times, reveals a great deal more.

"Simon's Cat" began as a simple technical exercise.  Tofield was experimenting with Flash, an animation program designed for making commercials.  "As I was making up a project to help me learn, a kitten I'd just gotten named Hugh was jumping on my head and batting at my nose."   So he had the bright idea of using cat movements and mannerisms as the subject of the exercise, and adding a gag at the end.  And he called the resultant cartoon "Cat Man Do."

A Tandem client asked permission to post "Cat Man Do" on its website, to test its internet service in the USA, and was stunned to get 60,000 hits in the first 48 hours, nearly downing the server.  More than 50 people posted it on YouTube under various titles, and so the marvelous story began.

Tofield seems still amazed by the huge success of the cartoon films. Typically, he gives all the credit to his cats.  "I have three cats -- Hugh, Maisie and Jess  -- and they've all contributed to the films and the book[s]," he says. "The good thing about having three cats is that if one is sleeping all day, there are two more to watch and they're always doing funny things."

Producing the "Simon's Cat" books has given him enormous pleasure.  "I always carry around a notebook now," he said. "I jot down ideas whenever I think of them, and I sketch a lot while I'm sitting on the train."

Maybe I would recognize him, after all.

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